One of the reasons for why those struggling with an addiction problem can feel reluctant about seeking help is because of the stigma of alcoholism. The scientific evidence is undeniable – people do not become alcoholic because they are bad or weak, yet many still hang on to this unhelpful stereotype.
Most experts agree that alcoholism is a type of illness. Nobody chooses to develop this kind of problem. It makes as much sense to blame an alcoholic for his or her condition as it does to blame somebody who has diabetes for theirs. Drinking is very much part of the culture in most western countries, and the transition from social drinker to alcoholic can occur without the person even noticing; this can happen because of the power of denial.
The reason there is such a stigma associated with alcoholism is that it is viewed as an overindulgence. A common stereotype is that alcoholics lack willpower, while wilfully engaging in bad behaviour. It can be difficult for individuals who have never been addicted to understand this loss of control, so it is tempting to see the alcoholic as bad rather than ill.
It is common for those who begin to abuse alcohol to do so for a logical reason. These are often individuals who are struggling to deal with life, suffer from some type of mental health issue (for example, depression), or are a victims of abuse. These people can turn to alcohol as a type of self-medication, and the reason they continue to engage in the behaviour is that it can work in the beginning, making them feel better. The problem is that the person has to keep on drinking more and more to get the same level of relief; the more these people drink, the worse their life becomes. By the time the individual is able to see the cons of drinking outweigh the pros, they are already addicted.
It is human nature to want to be thought well of by others. The most common reasons why a person might fear the stigma of alcoholism include:
- it may harm their reputation
- some worry that admitting to this type of problem could harm their career
- the word ‘alcoholic’ is associated with many negative characteristics
- male culture often promotes the idea that manliness involves being able to handle drink.
The common stereotype of an alcoholic is somebody who is homeless, drunk all day, unable to hold down a job, and obviously down on his or her luck. The reality is that only a tiny fraction of alcoholics fit this profile. Most individuals with this problem are high functioning. This means they might appear outwardly successful in life, even though they are struggling due to their alcohol intake. It is often high functioning alcoholics who are most concerned about the stigma of alcoholism.
Many successful people are open about their history of alcoholism. In fact, most people have a very positive opinion of those who are able to overcome alcoholism. There is a far worse stigma involved in not getting help for an addiction problem and this is because the person’s life will continue to deteriorate until they are able to break free.
The public tends to be better informed about alcoholism than they were in the past and this is due to the availability of more accurate information online and on TV.